#108 : They Were 11

TW11_1Now for that age old question… what do you want to be when you grow up? The more appropriate version I would say is… when you mature what identity, or role, will you tie your life towards. For a group of young students in a far off sci-fi future these questions amongst many others will be answered as they learn to live with each other and understand what is important and true for themselves. In 1986, these students were the focus of a feature film by the name of They Were 11.

TW11_2Imagine having to pass a final exam as if your life was on the line, literally! Groupings of ten students have to board spaceships and survive on what is available and solve any problems without guidance. If you need to call for help, even just once, you have to forfeit the idea of graduation. As the story begins we have an immediate problem. This group of ten students we will be with during the story numbers one more. We have eleven students instead of ten, which means one of them is either a stow a way, an imposter and maybe even a threat. Who can it be? Everyone seems to be a suspect, yet all of them have legitimate reasons for being part of this final test. As the story unfolds, the drama grows as problems and issues ensue and trust becomes difficult between these eleven as one of them seems to intuitively understand the ship and certain circumstances better than the rest of the group. This would be enough for any other tale, but They Were 11 has even more to tell.

TW11_3The eleven students all come from different backgrounds. Many of them come from royalty, or well to do families and are in school to essentially follow their family’s traditions. These students are locked into their own paradigms and don’t have much choice for their lives. Tada, one of our main protagonists, is an exception as he is a highly gifted young man from a modest background and is making his way based on his talents instead of his lineage. Add to this, Tada begins to awaken to esper and psychic abilities, plus repressed memories from his childhood, that makes him quite suspect to the others. Frol, our other primary protagonist, is a young feminine androgyne who desperately wants to fit in and be one of the boys due to male privilege and freedom. Frol’s questioning of gender is the other major focus of They Were 11 as Frol comes to terms with the fact that in heart, soul and body a woman she is meant to be. A relationship soon develops between both Tada and Frol as they both share each other’s company, ideas and struggles.

TW11_4So many times space opera is a showdown of spaceships, laser beams, battle tactics and macho bravado, or perhaps, stern military seriousness. Many examples can follow these traits and do it successfully, but They Were 11 goes against this trend. Instead we have a story about relationship, characterization, love and sacrifice set in a future outer space environment. Sounds more like a shojo type of story than the usual shonen/seinen and by jove it is; one of my all time favorite’s of the designation. Instead of the bombast of say a full symphony orchestra, we have a string quartet. And though the size is smaller in scale, the power behind the meaning being expressed may be a little more intense. This is space opera treated as traditional drama for the stage; They Were 11 is dramatic theater, a play, set to animation.

They Were 11 tackles many difficult issues and does it all with grace and dignity. The original manga was the creation of one the best from the Year 24 Group, Moto Hagio, a woman who I have heard was the female equivalent to the great Osamu Tezuka. They Were 11 is a story that represents themes of self discovery and aspiring not to become someone, but to embrace an inner truth in ourselves that only we know to be correct. In a year that saw the release of Studio Ghibli’s first film Castle in the Sky and one of my all time favorite’s Windaria, They Were 11 represents a true dark horse that deserves more attention and recognition; an awesome and inspiring movie.

#103 : Horus: Prince of the Sun

Horus_1I often wonder, was Horus: Prince of the Sun ‘born under a bad sign’? Many circumstances attempted to derail this early gem of the modern era of Japanese animation. It went over budget, it took more time to finish and even the parent animation company of Toei and it’s producers wanted to shelf this film. Why? This film had and even still has so much potential; it took chances and sounded a battlecry for a new generation of animators. And there in lies the answer as Horus: Prince of the Sun attempted to break free of the conservative standards of the day by telling a different story in both concept and direction. The results of this would honor Horus with critical notoriety over the years as one of the crowning achievements of the 1960s.

Horus_2By 1968 Isao Takahata had become a solid veteran in the animation industry and gained a reputation as a leader of those younger up and coming members of the industry in the 1960s. With both TV and film work of various degrees under his belt there was one achievement that this young man had left to fulfill and that was to direct a feature film. This opportunity came, but at a price. As mentioned before from the start this movie had some nasty karma associated with it. Producers at Toei, money and time all had a hand in stopping this film, but Takahata with his quiet demeanor and steadfast approach to being a director made sure that this film would get made, finished and then released.

The major controversy of this film can be traced into the story itself. The Norse mythology and look that was used was nothing more than a cover for another story that existed underneath. Japan’s native population, the Ainu, had for generations been looked down upon yet their culture was rich and diverse. A new generation wanted to adapt a traditional tale of the Ainu and present a more serious subject matter to give animation a more mature option. Both progress and change are a part of civilization and this new generation of artists and animators wanted to be at the vanguard of this movement. This was the 1960s after all and be it America, Europe, or Japan, the youth of the period were questioning and protesting against the rules and the establishment of their day.

Horus_3The story is a quintessential tale of the ‘Hero’s Journey’ (all hail Joseph Campbell) where our young hero Horus, sometimes translated to Hols, must integrate into the greater whole of civilization. This is a common theme I find in Takahata’s work and both sides of the extreme can be seen in Grave of the Fireflies (going against society and/or being ignored by society) on one end of the spectrum and Pom Poko (the community coming together for a common concern) on the other. Horus soon settles into a town and becomes a local hero after conquering a giant pike (fish) that prevented fish from being a food source to the local people. Soon afterwards he meets a wayward girl, Hilda, with a mysterious and unknown past and a large, very large, chip on her shoulder. Hilda is quite a complex character and her relationship with Horus is complicated and becomes a key element for the plot of the story as the film progresses forward.

Horus_4Horus: Prince of the Sun not only took more seriously the storytelling, but also on a technical level, the animation itself. This film amongst other examples of the era raised the standard of the quality of Japan’s output. Disney was the standard and Horus: Prince of the Sun is on par with the quality of the venerated classic Disney films. In certain aspects it excels, in particular with the action sequences with the pike fight and the final showdown. Of course Japan has always had an edge (my opinion) in regards to action and the movement and fluidity required to make those sequences work.

This is a film that has taken a few views on my part to fully appreciate the greatness to what Horus: Prince of the Sun truly is. Due to the issues with the production of the film it has it’s own way of unfolding the plot, which took me a little getting used to, but once I understood the whole of the scope of this film I came to love this movie. It’s classic Takahata and I recommend you to watch this one at least once to see where anime once was, where anime was going and see where this film has left it’s influence today.

… on a personal note, I dedicate this posting to the memory of Isao Takahata who passed away recently. Thank you good sir for your work and I for one will never forget the stories you shared with us all.

Isao Takahata
Oct 29, 1935 – Apr. 5, 2018

#102 : Armored Trooper Votoms: The Last Red Shoulder

VtLRS_1Do you want a proper story about revenge? How about a sequel that is more like a crucial missing chapter? Do you enjoy Armored Trooper Votoms? I hope you answered yes to all three of these questions because Armored Trooper Votoms: The Last Red Shoulder is perhaps one of the best examples of the early use for the OVA market to add depth to an already strong property. Prepare to strap into the Scopedog once again for yet another mission and this time, it gets personal.

VtLRS_2Chirico Cuvie may be the most fascinating character is mecha history. He is not heroic, hot blooded, or even a rookie to being in a mech. He is a stoic, slow burning and taciturn battle scared veteran. In more direct terms, he is one of the deadliest of the deadly, one of the Melkian army’s most feared killing machines, a Red Shoulder. Yet, Chirico and a handful of other cynical grunts are seen as undesirable for their acts of showing defiance towards the established military they are a part of. Biting the hand that feeds you! Years later and having survived the atrocities of the Hundred Years War of the Astragius Galaxy these four men reunite for a solitary cause, to go after the man who made them into Red Shoulders and then left them for dead. Their target is General Yoran Pailsen. After escaping a secret mission, torture and interegation and then the troubles of Uoodo City, Chirico joins these other three men and begin to plan. But can these four independent dissidents work well together?

VtLRS_3While Chirico may be the star of the show, he only represents half of this OVA. The second half belonging to his future adversary, the troubled and mysterious Ypsilon. We see his birth so to speak as he opens his eyes for the first time in an almost Garden of Eden like setting with the other so-called Perfect Soldier of the Votoms universe, Proto One, or in the eyes and heart of Chirico, Fyana. She mentors the naive young man before the influence of the training and brainwashing he receives from the secret society that Chirico is so interested to find out about. Watching this OVA gives a little perspective towards the humanity that was once in Ypsilon. It just goes to show that villains are just like the rest of us, just a little more perverted (hey not in that way kids) from internal or external circumstances.

VtLRS_4The beauty of this OVA is the fact that is acts like the lost 53rd episode of the TV series. Or, perhaps it should be episode 13 part 2 as this story sandwiches nicely between the first two arcs of the TV series: Uoodo City and the Kummen Jungle Wars respectively. No matter how this OVA is defined, The Last Red Shoulder is required viewing in the Votoms universe ONLY… if you complete the original TV series first. The plot and characters will make perfect sense as we see elements from the later parts of the TV series make small, but vital entrances. The production of a few more model kits may have paved the way to help finance The Last Red Shoulder, but the real substance so to speak is the revenge story and the new characters that we get to invite into our space for the time of about an hour. But as you near the end of this OVA you may crave some action and you shall be rewarded. The only question is who will make it out alive?

The rich palette of seriousness and gritty texture is what makes Votoms a special mecha property. Armored Trooper Votoms: The Last Red Shoulder smells of oil, blood and sweat, feels like bullet scared metal and looks of the dull nasty green of army surplus. War is hell and it can drive a man (or woman) to insanity, or leave personal traumas that need serious time to heal. Armored Trooper Votoms: The Last Red Shoulder brings you back into this dark world of dramatic hell that surrounds the politics and drama of the Astragius Galaxy and it does it so oh so excellently. Highly, highly recommended.

#100 : Super Dimension Fortress Macross

Macross_1It’s #100 and I saved this one for this occasion. 🙂 In the far future of the year 1999… oh wait it’s 2018 now… don’t you hate it when the once thought of far future becomes a past memory? Well let pretend it’s 1982 once again, when a little show created by a bunch of anime and sci-fi fans hit the airwaves. Their story as stated before began in the year 1999 when suddenly a warp gate opens, bringing a behemoth of a spaceship into our local area of interstellar space. And much like a wild meteor with a mission, this ship came down like a speeding bullet onto a little island in the South Pacific. Ladies and gentlemen we humans are most definitely not alone anymore and this lone fictitious event in the sky is the beginning to THE most important anime in my whole fandom and life.

Macross_2Love is something you can’t describe with simple language and if you can, it really is not the passionate love you should feel from the bottom of your heart. In 1985, as an impressionable six year old, via an adaptation named Robotech, I fell in love with the most beautiful of space operas. NO, one of the greatest mecha anime ever. NO, the greatest love story that I have ever encountered. Well… maybe all three combined. I had experienced a story, characters and emotions that resonated with me on a level one cannot define. This was and still is a title many of us hold in the highest regards as something beyond special. It was one of my gateway anime and remains to this day the yardstick that I measure anything else I watch up to it… Super Dimension Fortress Macross.

Coming from my perspective and fandom and with all the variety of opinions already stating what happens in the show, the only thing I can give is what Macross has given to me on a personal level. Macross is not a television show, or even an anime. It is a part of my family, pure and simple; close knit family to be exact. These are my adopted brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles and best friends. Even though the cast are not with me in the physical plane, they have been instrumental in keeping me alive, healthy and happy. Macross for me is the Beatles’ In My Life, “there are places I remember… some have gone and some remain… all these places have there moments… In my life, I love you more.” I don’t see this posting as another entry, this is a soliloquy in the form of a love letter.

Macross_3Much credit to Macross is given to Shojo Kawamori (way too much!) almost as if it was “his” project alone, which of course is NOT true! But again where did Macross come from… a manga, toyline, yada yada… nope? It was it’s own creation, completely original and influenced by a group of young creative fans. An almost proverbial otaku’s dream come true, the purest form of fan service. Not the emphasis on the usual definition of fan service, but the wanting to add reference upon reference making the story grand and sentimental. You can give credit to others like Noburo Ishiguru or Ichiro Itano, but one individual makes Macross very special (my opinion)… the greatest character designer ever (again my opinion), Haruhiko Mikimoto!

Macross_4Mikimoto’s eye designs are always what win me over. Beautiful eyes with a romantic quality, they glisten like stars in the night (Mikimoto insists it was a shojo influence). Therefore this is the best looking cast ever (my opinion yet again), particularly our main cast… the perfect trio, handsome Hikaru, elegent Misa and adorable Minmei. Beyond the ‘main’ cast you have a huge subsidiary group and all of them get a couple minutes to show their individuality, but I have only been speaking of those of us who are all Earth born. Macross, after all, is an epic space opera and humanity meets another race from a far off area of the universe. Remember that spaceship I mentioned earlier that crashed onto the Earth… it is of interest of giant alien race, the Zentradi.

Macross_5Thus the plot begins… a spaceship gets refurbished, an alien invasion leads humanity into outer space, a war ensues, a young girl’s dream of becoming a pop star comes true, a love triangle becomes difficult and the questioning of the origins of both humanity and the warlike Zentradi are tied to the mysterious Protoculture (not exactly the same thing as in Robotech folks)… and stretches over 36 episodes in total. Wow! Busy show indeed and never boring. No wonder Macross reached the tops of popularity since there is something for everyone to enjoy. But then again like I said before, this was a show made by fans of anime, manga and sci-fi. They knew which buttons to push to get the reactions which we all can identify with.

Macross_6Wait a minute… I forgot to go into detail about one important piece of Macross that I love. One word… MUSIC! Music plays a major role in the plot and the soundtrack is oh so good. I love music, I play music and great music in an anime is a thumbs up from my end. Kentaro Haneda’s orchestral work is inspiring and certain tracks, in particular Dog Fighter, are anthemic. The character of Minmei and her pop idol status was one of the first iterations of this character archetype. Love it or hate it, Macross would not be the same without Minmei as the cheerleader so to speak. She was the true star of Macross, yet not the major protagonist who was Hikaru. Her simple pop songs, a blast of culture more precisely, changes the course of events in this show. Love conquers all, literally.

The closing titles features a song called Runner, a sentimental ballad. And I will end this entry by saying that Macross and I have run together a long, long time (hard to admit you are getting older, but wisdom is worth the age!). Hand in hand, Macross and I will run forever. …with 100 postings down, it’s time to write another 100! 🙂

 

#97 : Armored Trooper Votoms

Votoms_1Armored Trooper Votoms in a certain frame of reference may be the greatest mecha anime of all time. And I say that again as a certain frame of reference since this may not be everyone’s idea of where mecha shows should tread. Several shows before and since have dived deep into realms of gritty military life and, or psychological science fiction, but nothing equals Votoms in terms of it’s presentation of both. This is a tale about a singular battle scared man coming to terms with his life and humanity in the dire of constant combat, but Votoms is also, perhaps, one of the most underrated love stories as well.

Votoms_2The year of 1983 brought many classic mecha shows to us and in particular the so-called real robot aspect of the genre. Sunrise would produce three gems: Yoshiyuki Tomino’s (Gundam dude) Aura Battler Dunbine, Takeyuki Kanda’s Galactic Drifter Vifam and Ryosuke’s Takahashi’s Armored Trooper Votoms. Mecha shows by this time had grown into a wealth of expression and many of the best had strong leanings towards space opera. Examples such as Star Trek, Star Wars, Yamato and Gundam all left influence on many shows in the early 1980s. These are prime examples of classic heroism and this is definitely not the world Armored Trooper Votoms. Votoms is more akin to the noir drama of Blade Runner, the esoteric sci-fi of 2001: A Space Odyssey and the Vietnam War grit of Apocalypse Now. Votoms is a story of the hunted outcast searching for his purpose, not that of a perfect hero.

Sergeant Chirico Cuvie, a former member of the deadly Red Shoulder brigade, is a man on the run. Despite his stint in Gilgamesh’s Melkian army during the great war of the Astragius galaxy against the Balarant, Chirico finds life on the run just as difficult. During a mysterious last minute final assignment, Chirico becomes aware of a great secret. After interrogation and being left for dead, Chirico runs to find peace and safety. The only problem is everywhere he goes he can’t escape the proverbial battlefield. All Chirico wants to know is what the secret operation he was involved in was all about, who the secret organization behind the operation is, to have both Gilgamesh and Balarant off his back and… most importantly… who this mysterious beautiful woman that is so linked to his destiny is and why is it that he feels so attracted to her (Duh!… she is pretty and loyal to you).

Votoms_3The grit of militarism exudes not just in the story and politics, but also in the designs of the mechs themselves. The AT Scopedog is a timeless design for not being flashy, cool, or futuristic. The Scopedog is a basic run of the mill tank or army Jeep brought into the world of piloted robots. Clunky, functional and a nasty shade of green, the Scopedog is an antithesis to say a Gundam, or Valkyrie fighter (Macross). Ironically, the simple build quality of Scopedogs are fitting within the culture of model building since Chirico himself many times during the show either rebuilds, or modifies, several mechs. Yet there is one characteristic of a Scopedog that is distinctive… those roller skate type feet which allow them to roll on the ground. Of course this helped in production of the animation by keeping the drawing minimal at times, but still… it’s kind of fun!

Votoms_4The structure of the show is in four successive stages, or arcs and each one builds on the previous. The DVDs I have separate neatly into these so called movements: we begin in the streets of Uoodo (very Blade Runner), move into the jungles of Kummen (Apocalypse Now), and finish with the planets Sunsa and Quent (2001). Like an onion you slowly peel away the drama and suspense and end up in a world you never thought was possible when you first started. Uoodo was fun, Kummen was intense, Sunsa is my favorite for how dark and psychological it became and Quent turns everything on it’s head and then some.

Many times I write about anime from memory alone, or after I seeing something ‘new’ to me, I have to speak about it within a quick turnaround. Then there are times when the urge to dive back into the entirety of a show is most necessary. Votoms needed a re-watch and having seeing it with half fresh eyes, I can’t discount this masterpiece. After all… I am comparing this show to two live action movies that I highly respect and love, 2001 and Blade Runner. Perhaps I needed to grow into this show and now was the time to recognize Votoms brilliance.

… this could be Grey Digital Target’s soul brother and I love that movie too.

#96 : GoShogun

If you wish it, it will come! Ever since I fell in love with an OVA from 1985 by the name of GoShogun: The Time Étranger, I had a yearning to see the original 1981 TV series. For a long time I had two options: raw episodes or the odd adaptation of Macron 1. I tried the raw and got through five episodes, but had to concede defeat. No fansubs to be found and no official releases anywhere… and then like a gift from the cosmos, perhaps it was Beamler energy (will explain later), an official release here in North America would materialize. 5… 4… 3… 2… 1… ZERO! Let’s watch some Sengoku Majin GoShōgun.

Goshogun_1As stated before this has been a long time coming and if it was not for Time Étranger I doubt I would have cared to even watch this show. Although I love mecha shows from the late 70s/early 80s, my main reason to finally see this show was not the action, nor the sci-fi, nor the GoShogun robot (which by the way, is a nice looking design). My reason was the main cast of six characters I fell in love with in the OVA. And while that OVA was a dark character study steeped in suspence, the original television show is mostly light hearted fare sprinkled with times of satirical reference and the occasional moment of seriousness.

Goshogun_2Our heroes known as Good Thunder include a group of three heroes who come from unheroic circumstances. One is a spy who failed in her mission and was sentenced to death (Remy Shimada). Another is a tough guy with a warrant on his head who covered for a crime of a friend (Killy Gagley). And the last, a former soldier whose wife was killed on the day of the wedding (Shingo Hojo). These three are brought on board the Good Thunder (also the name of a ship) by way of the mysterious Professor Sabarath (absent from the OVA) to protect the ship’s precious ‘cargo’ and pilot the robot GoShogun. Not your usual group of heroes, but then again who says you need experience to pilot a super robot? Sabarath also brings on board a young boy, Kenta Senada, who’s destiny is linked with this ‘cargo’ (reminds me slightly of GaoGaiGar).

Goshogun_3Now for that  ‘cargo’, it is called Beamler energy (told you I would explain this). Beamler allows teleportation and becomes the McGuffin device for the so-called evil empire of Docouga with their three second in commands (a bishonen snob, a big lug and a pill popping pirate type). Beamler though is evolutionary and changes with time and this lays influence into the story line. Sometimes Beamler is stabile, sometimes beyond unstabile and all the time, it is a great mystery of the beautiful universe we live in. But for my money, the big attraction so to speak is always in the appearance of the GoShogun robot, or it’s three component that join with the robot to complete it. Not only do Shingo’s King Arrow, Killy’s Jack Knife and Remy’s Queen Rose have the ability to join Goshogun, but these three also unite into another robot the Try-Three. And while Shingo is the so-called main leader of this Getter Robo like trio, it is Madame Remy who gets the control board when united as the Try-Three. I bet the original toyline was fun to play with! 😀

Goshogun_4By 1982 a compilation movie would emerge and is worth tracking down to serve as a nice sip of tea into the mythology of this show and it served the purpose of a minor stopgap before taking on the whole show. Seeing the entirety of Goshogun gave me such a smile on my face, but alas, a smile is ephemeral and I must soldier on to more anime. And yet… it is such a feat to see something you yearned for so badly that became a part of your universe. The once impossible hole for viewing Goshogun is no more and I happily display the DVD with all the other Goshogun artwork and Time Étranger releases I have collected over these years. Now to find a space and time to re-watch it all over again!

‘God’s in his heaven, all’s right with the My world’

#95 : Silver Fang: Shooting Star Gin

SF_1Often times shonen fighters are a time tested formula much like a twelve bar blues. Everyone has their rendition of the young boy setting out into the world and in the process makes friends, fights adversaries, then make friends of former adversaries and get involved in lots of training. Now for this time round let’s drop the whole idea of our hero being a human being. How about a tale from the animal world and in particular the world of our canine friends? A shonen fighter about dogs? This is Silver Fang: Shooting Star Gin (Ginga: Nagareboshi Gin).

SF_2Here is a mashup for you… let’s combine some older more serious Shonen Jump properties like say Fist of the North Star and Saint Seiya, add a little bit of the classic adventures of famed writer Jack London (White Fang and The Call of the Wild comes to mind) and for good measure lets also add a little bit of Watership Down. This is how I interpret Silver Fang in a basic tidy package. The presence of dogs are nothing new to anime, examples include: Casshan’s cybernetic Friender, the large mecha-like Yatter-Wan from Yatterman (I need to see more of this show!) and Ein in Cowboy Bebop. All three of these examples show the dog as a sidekick, a minor character, but to have the dogs themselves be the main attraction and more ‘human’ like with a complex structure of language, society and free will is a nice change (hence the Watership Down reference). Living life, having the human experience in the guise of a dog.

SF_3Gin’s origins trace him to a family of hunting dogs. His father, Riki, accompanies his master in the hunting of the great super villian, Akakabuto (an insane giant bear). Dogs versus bears… interesting. During this hunt Riki goes missing and is presumed to be dead. In the meantime Gin’s birth occured and would be soon he would be reared under a little boy named Daisuke. A boy and his dog, so cute! This sort of childhood for Gin would end once Daisuke’s grandfather, the hunter mentioned earlier, begins to train and toughen up little Gin to become a bear hunter. Again dogs versus bears, amazing. Gin’s time in the wilderness would get him acquainted with another hunting dog who eventually tells Gin about a colony of dogs who have gone wild to fight Akakabuto. Gin tastes the ‘call of the wild’ and sets off onto the hero’s journey. And on this journey he will meet many a sempai who helps him grow up, but one question remains. Who is the leader of this group of dogs and what actually did happen to Gin’s father, Riki?

SF_4For a Shonen Jump manga that ran for 28 volumes can you imagine how many episodes made it into final production? Perhaps 100 or so… no. OK, maybe 52… ah nope. 26!? The correct answer is 19. Wow, thats not many for back in the day, but let’s look a little deeper. Silver Fang debuted in 1986 under the shadow of two other higher profile Shonen Jump brothers and all three of these were animated at Toei. The siblings Silver Fang had competition with was none other than Dragon Ball and Saint Seiya; David vs. two Goliaths in a nut shell. And yet in the shorter span of story telling you get what you need, so not much filler. Kind of a relief in a way, yet with the longer run of the manga I wonder how much was cut to make this production?

Shonen Jump celebrates 50 years this year (2018). The big names will get another day in the sun; Dragon Ball, One Piece and Naruto will most likely have lots of exposure. But, I say why remember and stay with the nostalgia of familiar properties when you can try another show you may not have seen before. Being that 2018 is the year of the dog in the Chinese Zodiac, I nominate Gin as the mascot for this year. All the more reason to give Silver Fang: Shooting Star Gin a chance in your playlist.

… lions and tigers and DOGS versus BEARS, oh my!